I just wanted to reach out today to wish anyone who celebrates it a most blessed Samhain.
If you want to know more about what this day means to me in the context of my faith, read on. I don’t talk about it often in this forum, but today seems like a good day to challenge that for myself. So here we go!
So, what I’ve learned about my illness in the last two months is that it exists in a symbiotic relationship with me. Which follows, since the problem is inextricably linked to my immune system. Anything that impacts me could either cause or prevent a flare-up.
And since flare-ups are BAD, figuring out how to prevent them is kind of a priority right now.
The simple answer is that stress is the enemy. But what kind of stress is the more interesting question. Because I worked the convention at full speed, starting at 10am and ending around 2am, on my feet, running around, handling some really difficult stuff, and didn’t have so much as an instant of pain afterwards. So, even though I was physically very drained and exhausted, clearly that level of engagement wasn’t a trigger.
But then something happened at work right in the start of September, and while it was just a work thing, it took an emotional toll on me. I didn’t sleep well for several nights in a row and my anxiety was a constant churn in my gut. It all worked out okay in the end, and it helped me recognize some things I had been letting go that I should have dealt with more directly. But within a few days of the start of it, I got symptoms. And for the next two weeks, there I was in a flare-up.
It’s not like it used to be. Before, my hands would cramp up and I could barely hold a cup, let alone a fork or my phone. And everything would hurt. Not just moving — putting my hand in my lap instead of on a pillow would cause a shooting pain, too. But even when the pain went away, I still had other symptoms, including mono-like exhaustion. I needed naps every day, and couldn’t even sit up straight for more than an hour at a time.
So the first answer in the search for how to enhance my self-care for my current weird situation is to manage that stress. And I think it starts with sleep. If I sleep well most nights, I think I keep myself from a cycle of making my body work harder while my emotions are flooding it with stress.
Now, I’m the sort of person who gets a thought in my head and spirals with it. Had a bad interaction with a friend? I might spend a week thinking about it over and over after I settle into bed. Thinking about a difficult work project? I start to solve the problems when I should be counting sheep. I have a gift for finding ways to keep myself awake and fretting for hours and hours on a nightly basis.
I can’t do that anymore. Not and stay healthy.
I needed a way to chill out before bed. And sometimes reading helps, particularly when sleep is elusive by no fault of my overactive, hypercritical brain. I’ve always been at least a bit of an insomniac, and I’m a night owl as well. Sometimes my circadian rhythm just decides taht bedtime is 4am. But it’s different to be reading a delightful story because my body thinks it’s still party time than lying awake worrying and stressing about something when I’m tired and able to sleep.
So I have settled into a habit of writing late in the evening. 9pm or 10pm I get started (if I didn’t have the time and inclination to begin earlier) and I try to write 1,000 or 2,000 words. It forces me to put aside everything else — my day, my job, social stuff, the convention or choir — and just be in the moment with a story. It has the mindfulness of meditation, but it’s also feeding me something positive instead of just breathing everything quiet and hoping it stays that way.
And it’s working.
Once I got through the last flare-up, I’ve been sleeping particularly well. Writing every night means I fall into bed (maybe read a little) and think about the next scene to write, or the project when I finish the MCU AU. It means I climb into bed feeling accomplished and proud of myself, with more to look forward to tomorrow. And if there are work things, they’re much easier to put aside because I have something much better in the forefront of my brain.
As an added bonus, I’m putting down a ton of words every day at a time of day that isn’t usually useful for things like laundry or dishes. I’m not taking away from watching stuff with Sarah or others who hang out sometimes. I’m not cutting into my own downtime. I’m just making better use of the late evening when normally we’d be watching TV neither of us cares about or just playing on our phones.
It’s possible I might have trouble sustaining it long-term. Writing does sometimes come in an ebb and tide. But now I know something that works, so if writing stops working, it just means I have to find an alternative.
It’s been more than a year and dealing with this illness on and off has felt pretty icky. There’s a helplessness that happens when your body turns on you. If I can take back just a little control, just enough, that would be good. Baby steps.
So, onto more writing for the evening. And, probably soon, a rant about the MCU and how many words it took to set it to rights!
I haven’t been feeling well the last two weeks — a flare up of my mystery illness which we now think may be psoriatic arthritis. I’m on 2 drugs for it, both of which suppress the immune system, but every now and again either stress or really bad sleep for several days in a row get to me and my immune system powers back like it’s charging the beaches at Normandy. Sometimes typing hurts, sometimes sitting up hurts, and sometimes none of it hurts, per se, but it’s akin to having mono and just being physically wiped out and exhausted all the time.
What energy I’ve had, I’ve been pouring into writing. My goal is to finish the 4th and 5th parts of the big MCU rewrite by the end of October. It’s aggressive, and may not be possible. But I gotta try.
So, in order to save energy for writing, this is about the sum of the update. To make up for its brevity, have a song I am completely obsessed with right now by the incomparable duo of Lzzy Hale from Halestorm and The Hu:
I mean, maybe not really. I never really forgot about having the blog, but it took literal months for the world to calm down enough for me to think about it. I also slowed down writing in general precipitously at the same time, only just getting myself back to it right before the runup to CONvergence.
But now the recovery after CVG is nearly complete (it was amazing, difficult, exhausting, exhilarating, painful, wonderful, and everything else at any extreme — no middle ground here) and I’m starting to full emerge back into the world. I’ve got a writing goal to make by the end of October, and I’m committed to succeeding.
I’m also starting to rethink the fate of Dragonroe. I queried 55ish agents in 2019 and early 2020 and got only one R&R which went nowhere, so I feel I gave it a real shot in the traditional publishing world. But I was looking over it again recently and I’m starting to think maybe Dragonroe deserves a shot at the world even without a publisher. I had always been adamantly uninterested in self-publishing, and I still kind of am? But the story is good, and maybe there’s someone out there who needs it. So I’m considering.
Sarah had an amazing idea about putting it out as an ebook in places other than Amazon (because Amazon) and then creating a Patreon account to sell it directly as well. I was telling her about all the other stories I have in my head in the Dragonroe world — the history of the twins, what happens afterwards, Mercy’s backstory, etc — and she thought I could write those and dump them on Patreon in case anyone became invested in the series.
I’m never expecting to make money off this. I may never make any money from writing any more than I do from music. But I never sang at HarmCon to make money. I never wrote to make money. I sing because the music is inside me and I want to share it. I write because the stories won’t leave me alone and demand to be born into the world. I know I could put the whole of Dragonroe here on my website for free if I wanted, but the reality is that there’s only about 7 of you who read this, and probably fewer now that I went dormant for so long, so that’s not a way for it to be found. But if I put it on sites for ebooks, maybe somebody somewhere who needs my twins, or Rowan, or Caci, will find them.
I kind of want to do it, but I’m also very nervous about the how. This…is not my area. Formatting, maybe. Marketing, not a chance in hell. Self-marketing, even worse. Using social media to gain followers? Ugh, forget it. I’m not really a person suited to the work of being a self-published author. I just tell stories. So that’s a thing to consider before I make a final decision.
But, regardless, I’m moving forward again. I’m writing again. I have an eye to the future of other books I want to write and try to publish (or put online somehow). I’m even finally in remission enough to think about exercising again.
So I’m going to try to post on Fridays. Monday are just too hard. But Friday mornings seem okay. I’m not going to try to force myself to post every week, but I’ll try to build back the habit. Because maybe someday there will be more than 7 of you who want to hang out with my thoughts on the internet.
Last time on “Kelly actually posts a blog about writing,” I said that 2020 was going to be my year of writing victory. That I wasn’t going to let the failure to produce of 2019 continue into 2020. That I was trying new balances of CONvergence versus my own creative work. That I was finding my way by being flexible and taking new chances.
I started the year well. By using Sarah’s trip to Chicago at the start of November as a writing retreat, I had several days of uninterrupted work and a goal to accomplish on a timeline. That was the beginning, but not the end. I started an original work, but stalled on it a few months later, needing time to work through some things in my head. I pivoted back and dove into fandom with the help of a friend who is an endless supply of inspiration, ideas, art, and smiles. By the end of May, I had finished two full novels, already better than 2019.
The fact that I did the bulk of the work on the second of those during the March-May period of the initial uncertainty around Covid helped encourage me. June’s creativity was stymied because I was putting a lot of energy into BLM and the protests in Minneapolis. But my brain was awake again, and ideas were always close to the surface.
Then, two things happen in July. For one, I got sick. That made writing difficult when I couldn’t get my fingers to move, or couldn’t sit at a table , or couldn’t hold a laptop on my lap. But I also got hit with a story idea so compelling, writing was the only thing I wanted.
I decided that, if I can’t save or fix our timeline, then I was going to rewrite the MCU instead and give them a better future in our place.
I began the typing on MCU part 1 at almost the exact same time as the flare-up, but being sick and hurt made every moment of writing all the more precious. And so by the end of August, I had finished it at 99,000ish words.
The beginning of September brought a change to my job as well as my now-fluctuating health, so even though I kicked off part 2 right away, I lost a lot of time to those two things. I had a new boss, a new set of priorities, and the continuing adventure of waking up to wonder which joints would refuse to work. But the story was still there, still needed to be written, and it still fed me in ways nothing else could. So I fought with myself, carved out times in the evenings while Sarah worked or played on her computer, and made my long days even longer.
Last week, I finished MCU part 2 at 136,000ish words. There are at least two more parts to go.
It feels really good, I’m not going to lie. It feels really good to come through so much this year and still be able to hold up truly substantial wordcounts for myself. It’s nowhere near my peak, of course. But it is the biggest step on the path I could have made. And now, with the MCU burning in my head, I find myself thinking about last winter’s abandoned original novel — and planning ways to finish it and begin the querying process again.
Because if querying ends in heartache again, I now have all the proof I could ever need that I can write anyway. That adversity can’t stop the creativity in me, and if I put in the work to go with it, I can still make stories in the darkest of times and the darkest of timelines.
For anybody playing along at home, here is the 2020 writing total, and my all time totals:
What isn’t represented here is the MCU-specific stats. I’m tracking those in their own sheet where I can keep all my notes and the changes to the timeline and everything else. And what that tells me is that my words per day average for the MCU fics is 2,353. But that’s for all days from the start of the project through today. If I look at my daily totals (which I record, because I’m a nerd), then I find that my average writing on days I wrote anything at all is 5,587. I am basically writing a full chapter every time I sit down to work on it.
I have a ton to improve on. I need to keep up this momentum and bring the rest of my rewritten MCU to light. I need to go forward with the next original novel and try to birth it into the world. I need to get back to posting to this blog more than once a month or so. There is so much room to grow, but today I know I can do it. I came through Covid and this horrifying year and still created stories worth having and sharing.
It’s one more line of resilience inside me, one more pillar to hold me up. One more folding of the steel in my heart to make it stronger and sharper. Every dark day I stand up a little more is one more dark day that I can get past. Every failure, every disappointment, they become the stones beneath my feet as I climb up the hill.
And I’m still climbing.
2020 saw me overcoming. May 2021 bring even better days.
I know I haven’t posted in a while. It’s been eventful in the time in between.
I got sick in July. Pain and tension and cramping got into my body, my bones, my tendons. Some days I couldn’t even open my hands for hours at a time. And the pain was so great I barely slept. We saw doctors and had tests (14 separate vials of blood taken is TOO MANY), and ultimately discovered that I have an auto-immune disorder which has led my immune system to attack me in every joint it could reach.
They put me on medicines to suppress the immune system, balancing dosages with what side-effects I could bear versus how long they took to kick in versus what took the pain away. For a couple of weeks, a friend who tested negative for Covid came to stay with us just to help out. I couldn’t grip a plate, or hold a cup sometimes, or put on my own clothes. It was exhausting in every way. Not just the not-sleeping due to pain, but the strain on my body of being in constant pain, and then the strain of adjusting to the drugs. I slept more than I did anything else, I think.
But the one thing that held up was my spirit, actually. It was so profoundly unpleasant, but only a little scary. Because I learned that even if I couldn’t bend my fingers, I could still think and tell stories. I could sing. I could listen to music. I could talk Sarah through panic. I was still me, wholly and fully. Loss of mobility made it harder, but I didn’t lose myself along the way. I knew that if the worst happened and my body was about to change dramatically and permanently, I would be okay. Because I would remain. I am more than the sum of flesh and blood and bone.
Now that I’m starting to come out the other side of it all, as we slowly decrease the doses of drugs and see what I can tolerate and what causes me to relapse, it helps to know that this was something I could endure. Something I beat. Something I didn’t allow to cut me down.
Today is hard for a different reason.
I have trouble with birthdays. Mine are always complicated. The birthday parties I mostly remember from childhood were never simple. Always there was some kind of drama, some kind of thing that went sideways. As a very little kid, teachers will make sure to celebrate a birthday kid at school, make treats happen, all of that. But because mine is so close to the start of the school year, often the first or second or third day of a new year, teachers didn’t get that sorted out right away. And I got forgotten. Later, as my birthday celebrations became less a gathering of family that included cake and more deliberate parties with friends, the drama got worse. People fought right on top of me, sometimes leaving me to retreat from my own party. And after eighth grade, no one really celebrated with me anymore because I didn’t have friends then. It took the building of my core of people in college for birthdays to mean something new.
Birthdays, if you ask me, are the times when we look at a person with whom we share the world and reflect on how glad we are that they exist. And I’m as bad as the next person at remembering all the important days of all the people I love. They’re in my calendar, but sometimes they get lost anyway. So I can’t resent anyone or be upset when I get forgotten, too. And I don’t.
Birthdays are the worst day to feel lonely, though. And with Covid, with the fact that I haven’t seen the people I love since fucking March, the fact that I’ve only had a few hugs since then, loneliness is never far away. We’re all stumbling through as best we can, and we’re putting our own safety and that of the people around us first, and that’s all good and important.
Those conflated feelings, though, of being alone, of not being wanted, of not being celebrated, they don’t play well in a Covid world where I can’t hold the people I love close.
What adds a dimension of complexity to all this is that I really just don’t like being the center of attention. We’ve held parties before, notably last year when stuff was so hard, and I find myself shrinking away from standing in the center. It’s one thing to lead, to organize, to communicate and coordinate. But there is something else about actually having everyone’s eyes on me, being the focus of all that interest. In so many ways, I would rather be a stage manager than the star of the show. As badly as I sometimes want to be seen and heard, the majority of the time I just want to make everyone else shine and hide in the dark doing my part to make them glorious.
So of course I could have organized something for myself as I did for Sarah’s birthday a month ago. I could have set up a CAH game online, or a chat, or a shared watch-along movie thing. But the burden of standing in the spotlight is just too much. I’m so tired still from being sick for two months, and I’m worn down by the lack of true interaction. Even if we could be physically in the same space, I wouldn’t probably want to be putting together the day and coordinating the fun. I just want to curl up with the people I love and be held for a while. That’s pretty much it. I want to know that I’m not alone, that I’m not forgotten or overlooked, that the people I love haven’t found reason to quit loving me because I’m not there.
Some feelings stay with us our whole lives. Mine, I think, more than the trauma of specific events, is the pervasive cloud of loneliness that marked every day for the first twenty years or so of my life. That constant isolation. And while I have come far enough to know that it was not deserved or earned, that there is nothing about me that warrants abandonment, those feelings remain. I don’t have to blame myself or think that I am awful and that is why I was unwanted in order for the old cold of loneliness to find its way to me.
I wish we lived in a world where I could run around and get a million hugs today and every day for the next month. I wish we lived in a world where I could be there for everyone else going through hard times, worse times, stressful times, as more than a voice over a computer or lines in an email. I wish we lived in a world where today’s rain didn’t have the chance to bring out the melancholy in me because I would be doing something with people.
I wish I lived in a world where Covid never jumped to humans, where my immune system didn’t go haywire and need to be punched down into submission, where birthdays were reminders of love and friendship rather than isolation and apathy.
But the good thing is that “this, too, shall pass.”
Someday, we will have a vaccine for Covid that works and saves lives and allows us to gather in person again.
Someday, my immune system will chill the hell out and quit trying to bite my joints in half, whether by the flare up ending naturally or the medicines stabilizing it.
Someday, even if birthdays always carry a bit of a cloud over my heart, I’ll have the choice to spend them celebrating and enjoying time with the people I love.
Someday the world will look brighter. I have to believe that. I have to fight for it. I have to stand up and beat down the circumstances of the world just as I beat down the destruction of my ability to move for myself. And, I still believe, that if enough of us hold up the good, hold it up unyieldingly, hold it up not in fear or anger, but in hope, that the storm will pass and the rainbow will herald the sunshine.
I crawled out of a lonely life into one filled with people I love and who love me in return. I dragged myself through pain that made me cry just to open my fingers from their cramped claw shapes. And now I’m going to take my evening and, rather than wallow in what can’t be, build something new.
I’ve been writing in a quantity I haven’t seen since the fall of 2016, and this time my energy shows no sign of abating.
If I feel melancholy, I’ll hold onto all the good things. The good days to come and the ones I’ve already been granted. If I feel lonely, I’ll poke Sarah for hugs. If I feel hurt and weary, I’ll sing my way back to cheer. I can’t control what is, can’t help the fact that it’s a rainy, grey day without any company but Sarah, but I can control me. And if I can’t manufacture better feelings, then I’ll get them the old-fashioned way. I’ll fight for them.
Because if there is one thing I can ALWAYS do, it is rise and soar above any cloud.
The Sunday after there was laughter in the air
Everybody had a kite
They were flying everywhere
And all the trouble went away
And it wasn’t just a dream
All the trouble went away
And it wasn’t just a dream
In the middle of the night
We try and try with all our might
To light a little light down here
In the middle of the night
We dream of a million kites
Flying high above
The sadness and the fear
As I look out at the world from my windows, I have the privilege of a view of the Mississippi winding its way into downtown Minneapolis and the green of a neighborhood filled with artists, families, and immigrants. But the view at nighttime, while impossible for me to capture on a camera phone, is always the one that arrests my attention. All cities look the same at night, you know. There are streetlights, lights in kitchen or bedroom windows, office buildings with their signs, bridges, and cars going by. I can look out my window at midnight and be looking at Minneapolis, or San Francisco, or Beijing, or all three at once. The shape of buildings and the skyline may change, but we are all small points of light in the darkness.
Life hasn’t been kind to us lately — the world is full of fear and pain and hatred, and many of these come to roost in our very backyards, our streets, our homes. Those we love may have been touched by illness, or taken from us. Those we love may have suffered violence, or we have suffered it ourselves. We may have turned off our social media or our news channels to seek a moment of peace amidst the political chaos and rhetoric of destruction.
And amidst so much that causes harm, fear, pain, it is more important than ever for us to be lights burning brightly and steadily. For us to be the warm glow of a candle, the illumination of a lighthouse, the eternal burn of the moon and stars. The more difficult it is, the more necessary it becomes that we shine. For ourselves, for those we love, for everyone who follows in our wake and finds their own path by our light.
So I meditated to this poem set to music. The music is powerful (and many who have sung in choirs will be familiar, as Frostiana is a choral staple) and this particular version uses pictures from the Hubble Telescope as accompaniment.
CHOOSE SOMETHING LIKE A STAR
by Robert Frost
O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud-
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says ‘I burn.’
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
In the night when you look out your windows, I hope you remember that we’re all the same steady points of light in the darkness. And as the days pass and our world continues to spin, I hope that you find something like a star to follow, not only to find your own way, but so that you can also illuminate a path for those that come after you. Every light in the darkness, every star in the sky, makes the world brighter for us all.
Thank you all for being part of the light in my world.
I’m not gone, I’m just focused on other things right now. Work has exploded (not in a bad way — I’m less bored than I’ve been in years and I’m feeling really proud about what I’m doing even when I’m working many extra hours) and the world is a tough place right now. This weekend should have been Pride in Minneapolis, and I should have been out there with my community celebrating. Instead, we’re all inside.
And yet, our people come through. We, in our history of resistance by every means necessary including fighting back against oppressive police behavior, find ways to stand up. Against hatred. Against violence. Against illness. Against indifference. We stand up and we wave our bright colors and we sing in loud voices and we refuse to be unseen.
I think, at heart, it’s because the LGBT community is fighting for the right of every single person to be precisely who they are, and no less, without fear or reprisal. It is Courage. It is Honor. It is Defiance. It is following the rallying cry from within. “I will not be anything or anyone but myself, and nothing you can do, no law you can pass, no public opinion you can spout will change who I am in the quiet of my own heart. Say what you will, do what you will. I am here and I am alive and I will never stop being myself.”
So take Pride, and every day if you can, and live with that as your own banner. No power in the universe has ever been forged greater than the light of truth in your own soul. Breathe that light brighter, sing it to the skies, and you will find yourself a star.
I think everything that needs saying is being said by those whose voices need to be raised. I’ve been active on Twitter, trying to make sure the right information and the right perspectives are passed on. If you want to know where I’m at with the protests, the police violence, and then the fires and looting, find me there.